As Saab Dies So Does The Man Who Built It

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by jason_els, May 18, 2009.

  1. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2004
    Messages:
    10,576
    Likes Received:
    25
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Warwick, NY, USA
    On May 10, Bob Sinclair, known as Uncle Bob to Saab enthusiasts, died.

    Bob Sinclair was a gearhead. He loved cars and particularly loved the quirky Saabs. He rose to become head of American operations for the Swedish company and brought the Saab name into the ranks of the near-luxury market.

    With the introduction of the Saab 900 Convertible in 1985, Sinclair single-handedly revived the US convertible market just when it appeared Congress was going to outlaw convertibles as unsafe. A quarter of a million Saab 900 convertibles were bought by Americans since then.

    While he attempted to make Saab more American-driver friendly, as when he explained to Saab's designers the importance of cupholders to Americans, he never dithered with the essential success of Saab which was its endearing weirdness and exceptional engineering. He celebrated the differences and knew that the American buyer of a Saab had the intelligence to know why X-brake systems were better than 2+2 braking systems, why the key on the floor was a better location, why turbocharging an inline 4 was more economical than using a 6. Sinclair respected the Saab purchaser and enthusiast, reveling in his brand.

    The enthusiasm caught on and Sinclair's tenure at Saab made it a prestigious brand with unprecedented growth in the American market.

    In 1989 GM bought half of Saab, Sinclair was moved out, and the downturn began with Saab using rebadged Opel platforms and bit by bit closing Swedish design and engineering departments. The Saab 95 is no longer even built in Sweden.

    With the Swedes out, Saabs American sales plummeted as the buyer demographic ran away screaming from the GM product which very certainly did not resemble Saab in anyway. The new 93 wasn't bad, but the true death knell came when Saab introduced a very obviously rebadged antique Chevy Blazer as a Saab and buyers just shook their heads at spending $10,000 more for a Saab Blazer than a Chevy with the same equipment.

    I hope that the US will develop more people like Uncle Bob and allow them to do what Bob Sinclair did. Great cars are not made in accounting offices or focus groups. They're made by people with passion for their product and a desire to make it the best they can. For a brief while, Saab had that and it was a glorious ride.... with the top down.
     
  2. pym

    pym New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2008
    Messages:
    1,400
    Likes Received:
    0
    Not taking anything away from Saab, but they were always a low volume manufacturer. If i re-call, they sold at around 35 thousand dollars..900s models...10 years ago. US auto manufacturers have never been able to to stay afloat on those price points. Most people{in the real world} will never pay more than 20-25 thousand dollars for a new car in there entire lives. And in the real world...the majority of cars sold in the states for the last 20 years were for a signifigantly lower price point. Hyundias and kias sell for 12 thousand bucks......The US auto makers never had a chance once cheap cars like that hit our shores. And those asian cheapies continue to inundate our markets by the shipload daily. Market protection? Those cars were made by people earning 20 bucks a day. Compete against that? YOU don't. You get dominated. Britain lost it's motorcycle and car industry that way. We are losing our ENTIRE industry that way. I can still name every brand of television that USED to be made here. Most people have long ago {25 years} forgotten those names. They were America. They were our livelyhoods. Now WE OWE CHINA.
     
  3. thadjock

    Gold Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2006
    Messages:
    2,675
    Albums:
    1
    Likes Received:
    271
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    LA CA USA
    yeah unfortunately alot of the "art" has gone out of "life" with the rise of a craven business school culture that prizes profit above all,
     
  4. Cycleman

    Cycleman Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2007
    Messages:
    435
    Likes Received:
    3
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Man, those are some UGLY cars!
    :eek:
     
  5. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2004
    Messages:
    10,576
    Likes Received:
    25
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Warwick, NY, USA
    I have nothing against profit. What I am against are the current practices that cut corners to save costs so much that the quality of the product is grossly compromised. Saab suffered from this and from abandoning the very profitable niche which it had developed for itself.

    The Jaguar X-Type was laughed off of showroom floors by buyers who were affronted with a leaping Jaguar mascot attached to a Ford Mondeo.

    When you're in a luxury market, you have to be very careful never to go slumming like Daimler Benz did when it got into bed with Chrysler. You don't gain market share so much as lose it among people who see the very quality of the product compromised by reaching downmarket even if the quality is excellent. This was demonstrated perfectly in the business school textbook case of Halston. Halston was a huge designer brand in the late 60s and 70s. Halston was haute couture and tremendously fashionable with many original designs that re-wrote women's wear. His couture and ready-to-wear collections were snatched off the runways and merely his name on a label could make an item hot. Halston cashed-in on this and sold his name. Immediately junk came out of every conceivable corner of department stores everywhere and the Halston name was toast. Even though his designs were still cutting edge and beautiful, the fact that $2.00 perfume bottles being sold out of bodegas ruined all cachet his label carried and that was that.

    Halston was really the first luxury brand to reach so downmarket so broadly only to find that doing so caused it to lose its core market. Managing luxury brands is not the same as managing staple brands. They're NOT interchangable.

    BMW does a great job of reaching downmarket. Their purchase of the Mini brand has created a less expensive car (though certainly not bargain basement) with character and high build quality. At no time does BMW ever advertise itself as the owner of the Mini brand, and nor does BMW allow Minis to look or feel cheap. Daimler Benz screwed-up in numerous ways, but the biggest was that it was taking on an existing brand with perceived marginal quality rather than a beloved but retired brand like Mini which BMW was free to remake any way it chose. Daimler Benz wised-up and followed BMW's lead when it purchased the long-retired but legendary Maybach name and decided to use that to market its ultra-luxury products.
     
  6. Joll

    Gold Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2009
    Messages:
    14,505
    Albums:
    1
    Likes Received:
    722
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Wales (GB)
    Apparently the new 9-5 is set to be good. Not sure if GM will have completely off-loaded it by then though. I agree that Saabs weren't the same after platform-sharing with GM - and usually ending up with a previous generation platform (although the current 9-3 is good). I love their quirkiness myself with the distinctive cockpit -inspired (apparently) dashboard.

    PYM - it's horrendous watching your motor industry go down the dumper. Some of the British brands are doing well now - but only under foreign ownership (RR, MINI, Jaguar, Land Rover, etc). I was horrified in 2005 when MG-Rover collapsed, although it was only a matter of time. Our poor build-quality/reliability in the 70s and 80s, allied with strikes/labour unrest and terrible management under British Leyland did fatal damage to the industry here.

    I'm delighted by the success of the new MINI - but annoyed it's under BMW. They've done a great job with it, certainly better than VW's new Beetle. Some of the credit goes to Rover though who joint-engineered it with BMW, when under their ownership - and who were basically doomed when BMW off-loaded them in 2000, and made off with MINI and the 4x4 technology they'd learned while owners of LR. I do have to admit though, that BMW are making a better job of it than Rover would have done had it been left to them.

    Mercedes' reputation for build quality suffered hugely here too over the past 10 years - not sure if it's due to their partnership with Chrysler? - and it's only just recovering now. I'm not sure that a FIAT/Chrysler alliance will be all that successful either, as FIATs have long had a well-earned reputation for terrible reliability. Also, not sure which of their products would suit the North American market. I heard they're going to be homologated over the next 18 months and then shipped over - but the Panda and 500 (FIATs best cars) are too small, the Punto is unreliable, which only leaves the Bravo, which is good, but only goes upto 1.6 litres in petrol engines. I also hope FIAT don't succees in buying GM Europe which would be disastrous imo (in terms of the quality of the cars, and also British jobs).

    Hope Ford and GM do make it anyway - Ford's turned out some great cars over here in the past 10 years, and GM/Vauxhall are starting to also.

    Jason - didn't think much of the X-type either. new XF and XK are good though. :)
     
    #6 Joll, May 19, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: May 19, 2009
  7. Dave NoCal

    Gold Member

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2006
    Messages:
    1,992
    Albums:
    1
    Likes Received:
    243
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Sacramento (CA, US)
    Back to Saab. (Way) back in college and for a few years after I had a couple of 96s. Totally funky with a two cycle three cylinder engine, front wheel drive, shoulder harnesses (in the EARLY 60s), and free wheeling. They were so cool. The best one was a 1963 Monte Carlo with three carburators.
    Dave
     
  8. jason_els

    jason_els <img border="0" src="/images/badges/gold_member.gi

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2004
    Messages:
    10,576
    Likes Received:
    25
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Warwick, NY, USA
    joll: That's largely our view too. FIAT has always stood for, "Fix It Again, Tony," though in fairness more than a few people say Ford stands for, "Fix Or Repair Daily." FIAT has been gone from the American market for about 30 years and not many people in the FIAT buyer demographic are old enough to remember when they were crap. I wager they'll see the Italian styling and jump-in head first. What FIAT does bring to the US is a European alternative to the Japanese small cars. Whether it can compete with just FIAT models is difficult to tell. Small cars have been loss leaders for the Big Three so they really don't have any ground to lose to FIAT.

    Where FIAT could really strike hard is with the return of Alfa Romeo. Alfa has a fantastic line that would really compete with the other Europeans and the Japanese. FIAT has had plans to bring Alfa back to American shores after nearly 20 years of absence, and now the Chrysler deal will give them a dealer and parts network without having to start from scratch. I have to complain that Alfa has stopped producing the stunning 8C. That would have been the perfect car to reintroduce Americans to the Alfa brand. The 8C turns heads everywhere and is actually fun to drive if a bit primative in refinement.

    Ford has the best chance of surviving as-is because small cars have been profitable for them abroad. GM just revealed that their Plan B is having the government buy them out! Ha!

    MB went completely wrong with Chrysler partly because of the vastly different philosophies. American companies are harnessed to quarterly reports. A quarter must be profitable. Two or three unprofitable quarters in a row and you lose your job. The bean counters run everything. It's a horribly short-sighted way to run things but that's what the investment banks, who hold the majority of auto stocks, demand. Bean counters talk to other bean counters who tell the engineers and marketing people what to do. The result: crap cars but profitable (on paper) quarters. None of this meltdown is a surprise for the Big Three. The only profitable vehicles they've sold are trucks and SUVs. They've been losing money on economy and mid-range models for years. They knew the SUV market would come to a halt one day but nobody dared say anything. This is one of the reasons why I have zero sympathy for them. Bob Lutz at Chrysler was the last car guy to run a car company. The rest have been people who know how to manage everything and assume one product is interchangable with another. So long as you follow a formula, it'll work. That's not true.

    Daimler Benz didn't understand that philosophy and railed against it. When they found it so trenchant that resistance was futile, they bailed.

    The real threat to all of them is Porsche's buyout of VW. Porsche is a... Porsche?... of car manufacturers. They have an uncanny ability to build products people buy. They have vision, absurd amounts of cash, brilliant engineers, and a leadership that's willing to take the long view on corporate success. Their marketing is perfect and their reputation impeccable. Granted the whole thing is a bit brother-against-brother given the deep ties between the two, but if Porsche can maintain control of the culture, then VW and its very valuable subsidiaries, could make for a European GM (back when GM was somebody).
     
  9. Joll

    Gold Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2009
    Messages:
    14,505
    Albums:
    1
    Likes Received:
    722
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Wales (GB)
    Thanks for the reply, Jase!

    The styling is pretty cute on FIAT's small cars at the moment - and they are decent, but still not amazingly reliable.

    I agree (sort of) on Alfa. They have a beautiful line-up of cars. I've been a fan since the 156 about 10 years ago. Most serious petrolheads over here love them...but unfortunately they also are plagued by terrible reliability (especially with the electrics). Not sure if the new 157 and 147 (to be replaced by Milano) have changed things or not - they do look gorgeous though. Alfas certainly stir the heart - but might hit your wallet a bit, lol. Also with you on the 8c - looks amazing. I was surprised they didn't launch a V6 version as a mid-priced coupe actually - although I'd heard the chassis dynamics weren't all that good...

    Ford and GM small cars do really well over here. The Focus and Fiesta, and GM's Corsa and Astra are all huge sellers with great reputations. I like the look of your Ford Fusion, btw - MUCH better than the one we got :( How come you guys don't get the European Focus anymore??

    Interesting background info on the differing Chrysler and Mercedes philosophies. I think short-term thinking is terrible in the car industry. What you need (imo) is someone who understands accounting and financial management etc. - but who is also a serious and passionate car nut, who wants to turn out class - and world - leading products. I think (grudgingly, lol) that BMW and VW have it right - great, high quality products, with sensible financial planning too.

    Heard some surprising Porsche info yesterday (in The Times over here). Porsche apparently seriously overstretched itself taking up to 50% in VW - since it tripled its debt to £9 billion, and wont achieve additional control over VW, since the VW law isn't set to be repealed (where shareholders at the moment can only have 20% voting rights regardless of how high their stake). Apparently, the Porsche and Piech families now have to club together to pay off Porsche's debts, or Porsche has to agree to a VW buyout and become one of VW's 10 marques. :redface:

    Think I've banged on enough now, lol - except to say that some Finnish friends of ours moved over here in the 80s - and brought a cool Saab 99 with them (complete with snow chains for the tyres haha - which they didn't really need over here, lol). Was brilliant. :p
     
    #9 Joll, May 21, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: May 21, 2009
Draft saved Draft deleted